Beta, p.17
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       Beta, p.17

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
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Gina stood up again, smoothed and straightened her dress, placed her cell phone in her purse, which she then hung on her shoulder. She turned to me. “Come along. ”

  I stared at her. “You—you sh-shot me. ”

  She gave me a well, duh look. “And that won’t be all I’m going to do to you. Oh no. Not even close. ” Gina touched a long, cherry-red fingernail to the bottom of my chin, lifting my face. “But…if you cooperate with me, I’ll in turn make sure I’m the only one who will touch you. Do you understand?”


  “What that means, in case you’re too stupid to follow, is that if you make trouble for me, if you cause me to repeat myself, I’ll let one of my boys…play…with you. You won’t enjoy that, I assure you. ” She tapped me on the nose. “Now. Come along. ”

  “How am I supposed to—”

  Gina rolled her eyes at me. “It’s one knee. You have two. Now let’s go, you silly little cunt. I have things to do. ”

  I gritted my teeth, bit down on a scream as I struggled to my feet. Or, foot. I couldn’t put any weight on my knee, but I had no choice except to hobble as best I could toward the stairs. Gina followed behind me, gun barrel pressed against my spine, urging me to go faster. Getting down the library stairs was raw torture. Inch by inch, step by step, I fought, trying not to scream, not to sob, not to show weakness. This woman was a viper, the kind of animal who would smell fear and prey on it.

  I would not be prey.

  She shoved me toward the front door, where a bulky, swarthy, short man in a trim black suit stood with some kind of compact machine gun in his hands, waiting. I happened to glance to my left, toward the formal sitting room, and I fell to the floor, a sob catching in my teeth.

  Eliza. Eyes open and staring, a crimson pool spreading beneath her skull. Roth’s kind and devoted housekeeper was dead.

  “Eliza? Eliza, no. No. Nononono. ” I crawled toward her, fingernails scrabbling at the hardwood floor, heart breaking in my chest.

  I was grabbed around the middle and lifted off the ground. A hand pawed at my breasts, but I didn’t even notice as I focused on Eliza, sweet, quiet, competent Eliza.

  Dead Eliza.

  Within me there was a hard, cold knot of rage, already in place and building, put there by the chase across France, by Roth’s kidnapping, by the turn my life had taken, all at the hands of this woman. Rage at the hell my man had endured. All that rage was only intensified by the sight of Eliza.

  I thrashed, kicked, bit, and screamed, heard grunts of pain as I connected with flesh.

  “Knock her out, Tobias. ”

  A blow struck the back of my head, a lance of dizzying pain knocking the breath from me, narrowing my vision to tunnels. Another blow, and then a third, each harder than the last, and finally blackness swallowed me.




  It took every ounce of self-control I possessed to let Kyrie shower by herself. I stood in the doorway of the bathroom for several seconds, drinking in her lush, glorious nude beauty as she adjusted the water and stepped in. I wanted to shove my shorts off and go in there with her, shove her against the marble wall and fuck her senseless, and then dry her off and take her to bed and fuck her again and again, until we were both so spent we couldn’t move.

  Instead, I wrenched myself away and went up to the roof. Harris was there, sitting in the pilot’s seat of the chopper, smoking a cigarette and thumbing rounds into a clip.

  He saw me coming, lifted his chin at me. “Mr. Roth. Glad to have you back. ”

  I let out a sigh. “I owe you, Harris. More than I can ever repay. ”

  He shook his head. “No, sir. You don’t. That girl, she’s something else. Haven’t known her long, but she’s like family. So are you. I don’t want a fucking dime from you. Not for that. I took care of her because it was the only thing to do. I helped her go get you because it was the only thing to do. ”

  I shrugged. “All right. But I still owe you my life. So you need anything, anything, ever, it’s yours. ”

  Harris’s eyes were frozen emeralds. “Get the fuckers. ”

  “That’s why I’m up here, Harris. I can’t leave her. I promised her. But…I can’t just sit here and wait with my thumb up my ass. I have to do something. We have to get them. Strike first. ”

  Harris clamped the butt of his cigarette between his teeth, set the clip he was filling aside, and reached down behind his seat to pick up a long, flat black case. He laid the case across his knees and opened it, revealing a Remington MSR. It was a military version, not the stripped-down and simplified civilian version.

  Page 47


  “Holy shit, Harris. How’d you get your hands on one of those?” I asked.

  He shrugged. “Know a guy. ”

  “All right, fine. Keep your secrets, then. ” It was supposed to be a joke, but it came out flat. I rubbed my temples with my middle fingers. “You have a plan?”

  He nodded. “Yep. Find ’em, start killing. ”

  “Your plan might need some fleshing out, possibly. ”

  He closed the case, set it behind the seat once more, and resumed thumbing shells into the clip. I realized, belatedly, that it wasn’t a clip, but rather a magazine, and the shells were 7. 62 NATO rounds. “Yeah, maybe. ”

  There was an explosion of concrete at my feet, accompanied by a distant CRACK.

  “Shit!” I ducked behind the body of the chopper. “Someone is shooting at me!”

  “No shit. ” Harris was already flipping switches, bringing the aircraft to life. “We have to get out of here, Mr. Roth. ”

  As he said that, a bullet hit the windscreen of the helicopter, splintering it, followed by another round to the seat just behind Harris’s head.

  “I can’t leave Kyrie here!”

  “They’re not trying to kill us. We’d already be dead if they were. She’s locked in your quarters. We’ll circle around and find the shooter, and then swing by to grab her. ” He pointed at the seat. “Now get the fuck in the helo!”

  Something buzzed angrily past my face, going through both open doors of the aircraft, accompanied by a CRACK. The helicopter was roaring, the rotors a blur overhead, creating a downdraft so powerful I could barely stand up under it. My gut churned as I slid into the passenger seat, the chopper leaving the ground even before I was fully seated.

  I stared at the door leading down to my quarters; I was leaving Kyrie behind. I’d promised her I wouldn’t, but here I was, doing it. Another round hit, pocking the body, and another one, hitting the nose. We were being driven away, I realized, as the roof of the tower fell away.

  “I don’t like this, Harris,” I shouted. “They’re herding us away from the building. ”

  “No shit. Don’t see much option unless you want a bullet through the skull. ”

  Harris had the engine at full bore, the nose angling down to push us aggressively forward, away from the building at a speed reckless for an urban area. The crack of the rifle was no longer audible, and if we were being shot at anymore, the shooter was missing. Or, more worrisomely, they’d successfully driven us off the roof and didn’t need to shoot.

  Harris circled my tower several times at a distance of a few blocks, scanning the rooftops, but if he saw anything, he wasn’t letting on.

  And then my phone chirped, letting me know I had a message. My stomach roiled as I brought the device out of my pocket. The message was displayed on the sleep screen. It wasn’t a message, though; it was a picture.

  Of Kyrie.

  She was in a chair in the library, clutching her leg, which was a bloody wreck. She’d been shot. Her face was a mask of shock and agony.

  Hellish rage boiled inside me, red filling my vision, blocking out the world, blocking out thought and reason. “Go back,” I growled.

  “We can’t—” Harris began.

  My phone chimed again, and an
other picture winked into life on the screen beneath the first. This one was a selfie, clearly taken by Gina. She had a suppressed Walther PPK held to Kyrie’s temple, her lips pursed, glee in her eyes. You could just barely make out the bloody mess of Kyrie’s knee at the bottom of the photograph.

  I showed the photos to Harris, who glanced at them briefly, then returned his attention to piloting the helicopter.

  His lips compressed into a thin white line. I could see his knuckles whitening as he gripped the controls. “Fuck. ”

  I didn’t bother responding. Harris jerked the chopper around violently, slewing the nose back toward my building and throttling forward. As we neared my rooftop, he pointed behind my seat. “There are a couple of cases back there. Grab one. ”

  I twisted around and grabbed one of the pistol cases, opened it, and pulled out the pistol contained within, a Glock . 357. There was a preloaded spare clip, which I tucked into my back pocket. As I checked the load on the other clip, Harris had the helo flaring over the rooftop. I leapt out while the skids were still two feet in the air. I was through the door within seconds, ignoring the spit of a round cratering in the doorframe, ignoring Harris’s shouts to wait, ignoring the suppressed bark of Harris’s MSR as he popped off several rounds.

  I took the stairs three at a time, ran through the door and into the hallway beyond my private quarters. Up into the library. I slid to my knees in the spot where I knew the photo had been taken, my favorite spot in the upper back corner, with the antique overstuffed leather chair. There was only a blot of darkening, drying blood where she’d been. No note. No other evidence, except the casing on the floor near one of the stacks.

  Harris was waiting for me by the front door, staring at something off to the left, in the formal sitting room. I felt my feet dragging, as if knowing I would find something horrible, and didn’t want to get within sight of it. I glanced at Harris, and saw the sorrow on his face, then his cold, calculating, murderous rage.

  I’d seen and done a lot of nasty shit in my life.

  Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of Eliza, dead on the floor with a bullet through her skull. I fell to my knees beside her, my jeans slipping in the tacky blood. “Eliza. God, no. No. Eliza!”

  “Come on, man. We gotta move. ” Harris was pulling at me, lifting me up.

  “They killed Eliza, Harris. ”

  “I know. ” His voice was too calm, too quiet. “That woman was like a mother to me, Valentine. Trust me, we’ll get these fuckers. We’ll fucking slaughter every last goddamn one of them. But first, we have to go. We have to move. ”

  “We can’t leave her here, Harris. ”

  “We won’t. I’ve got a contact in the city who can take care of things. Clean up the mess, take Eliza someplace where we can bury her in private after all this is over. Okay?”

  I let him push me into motion, and we headed back up to the helicopter. I was in a daze after that, my mind cycling rapidly through all the worst scenarios. Gina had Kyrie. She’d shot her.

  “I’ve never hurt a woman before, Harris. ” I spoke softly into the headset. “I’ve never once done anything to physically harm a woman. Not even when Gina begged me to do shit to her. But…I’m going to kill her, Harris. I’m going to put a bullet in her fucking head. ”

  Page 48


  “You won’t get any judgment from me on that score, boss. Shit, I’d pull the trigger myself. ”

  Long minutes of silence, then: “Where are we going?”

  “Airport,” Harris said. “We’re meeting Henri in Paris. ”


  “Yeah. He called me late last night. Karahalios burned him out. Torched the whole building his bar was in. Sent a couple of guys to his personal residence. Obviously, that didn’t work out so well for Karahalios’s boys, and now Henri is out for blood. ”

  “I’m sorry that he’s involved. ”

  He glanced at me. “Didn’t have much choice. They were gunning for us, and I didn’t know who to trust. I had to stash her somewhere safe while I worked out transportation to Greece. ”

  I nodded. “I know. I get it. I just don’t like it. He’s retired. He shouldn’t have to be in this shit. ”

  “Or any of us, for that matter. ”

  “Yeah. ” I brought up the pictures on my phone, keeping the rage stoked. “How do we find her?”

  “Henri brought some gear with him. I think he can probably track that phone number, unless she’s got some kind of encryption on it. We’ll find her. I promise. ”

  My phone chimed as we landed, indicating a text message: Val, my dear. I know you well enough to know you’re planning to rescue your little slut. Don’t. You’ll only make things worse for her. Much worse. Stay away until I summon you.

  Harris’s phone beeped twice, and he glanced at it briefly, then at me. “We have to stop in Harlem,” Harris said, banking the chopper.

  The stop in Harlem was brief. Harris found a landing pad on the roof of a building I owned, and left on his own. After a forty-five-minute wait, Harris returned carrying a huge black duffel bag and rolling a battered Samsonite suitcase. I helped him lift the bags into the chopper, and they were both very heavy. Weapons, clearly.

  From Harlem we went to my private hangar at LaGuardia. Harris had obviously called ahead to have the Gulfstream prepped and a flight plan logged. The hours to Paris were the longest of my life. I spent the entire flight on edge and impatient, rage billowing through me with every breath.

  A Mercedes was waiting for us when we landed, and Harris slid into the driver’s seat, guiding the vehicle away from the airport and into the narrow streets of Paris. Thirty minutes from wheels-down, we were stopped outside a hotel and Henri was sliding into the rear seat, buckling his belt and speaking to Harris in French too rapid for me to follow. Harris nodded and then responded, pointing at me, indicating my phone. Henri took my phone from my hand without a word. He pulled a laptop from a backpack and connected a cord from the phone to the computer, then began rapidly tapping the keys.

  “Wish I could say it was good to see you, Henri,” I said. “Sorry about your bar. I’ll buy you a new one when this is over. ”

  “Non. I do not want your money, boy. I want the bitch dead. I want Vitaly dead. I can rebuild my own fucking bar. You know as well as I that you do not retire from this business. I was a fool to think I could. ” He glanced up at me over the rims of his reading glasses. He looked like an innocent, kindly grandfather, until you looked into his eyes. “But it is good to see you. ”

  “Thank you for what you did for Kyrie. ”

  “It is nothing. She is a beautiful girl. And one with real spine, oui? She did not faint away when things got messy. ” He tapped a few more times. “The bitch is arrogant. No security on her phone at all. This will be easy to find her. She is in transit, I think. Over the Atlantic. ”

  “You saw the photos and the message?” I asked.

  He nodded. “Oui. I did. ” His gaze met mine, direct, hard as granite and merciless. “You must decide, Roth. Do you accept her instructions to keep Kyrie safe? Or do you take whatever steps are necessary to take her back, and so risk her life?”

  I wiped at my face with both hands. “What would you do?”

  Henri was silent for a few moments, closing his laptop and storing it in his messenger bag. “She is an evil woman, Gina Karahalios. A spawn of the devil himself. She has no mercy. She has no intention of sparing Kyrie, nor you. I think, if it were me, if this were my daughter or granddaughter, I would not stop until I had her back, dead or alive. She will not live long in the hands of the Karahalios bitch. I think you know this. ”

  I nodded. “Yeah, I agree. ” I ground my teeth together, and then blew out a breath as I decided. “We take her back. ”

  “At all costs. ” Henri made a phone call, speaking in what sounded like French-accented Russian, and then hung up.

  “Now. A private
airport, and a flight to Sofia. I have several…acquaintances meeting us there. ”

  “Sofia?” I blinked, processing. “As in Bulgaria?”

  Henri’s lips curled in a faint smile. “Certainment. One of my oldest friends lives there. He knows some people who can help us, no questions asked. Only need…oh, a hundred grand, U. S. Maybe two. Easy. ”

  “Cash?” I asked.

  “That is preferable, I think. ” Meaning, Obviously, you idiot.

  “I brought cash,” Harris put in, setting a destination into the car’s GPS. “We’ll have enough. ”

  “These friends of yours—” I began.

  Henri cut in. “Not friends. They are not the type you would be friends with, I think. But they are professional. Previously Spetsnaz, I believe, although I am not sure. ” He shot me a piercing glance. “You trust me, Roth?”

  “With my life. With Kyrie’s, more importantly. ”

  He nodded. “Well, then. These men will do. ”

  Enough said.

  * * *

  We landed on an airstrip in the countryside an hour’s drive outside Sofia itself. The airstrip wasn’t really big enough for the jet Harris was flying, but he brought us down and stopped us just short of the end of the runway. An old blue Mercedes van waited for us, smoke-filled, stinking of fish and body odor and stale cigarettes. The driver said nothing. Henri said nothing. No one said anything, not for the entire hour-long drive into the city. Henri and Harris carried the various cases of weapons with them, while I carried the briefcase full of cash that Harris had, somehow, had the foresight to procure.

  I was falling back into a world I thought I’d left behind. Sullen, unwashed, unnamed drivers, acrid cigarette smoke curling in the thick air of a van. Suitcases full of weapons and cash. The complex cultures of southern Europe: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania. Dark purposes you didn’t think about too closely, acquaintances whose real names and INTERPOL records you definitely didn’t want to know about.

  Page 49


  Kyrie had been sucked into this world as well now. Our interlude in Manhattan had made me believe, if only for a few hours, that we were okay. That I’d be okay. That I could take on the Karahalios clan and win without any casualties on my side.

  I’d left Kyrie alone only for a moment. The talk with Harris was supposed to take five minutes, tops. I was going to get him moving on finding Gina before she found us.

  God, I’d been such a fool. And Kyrie had paid the price.

  I pushed the guilt and the rage out of my mind. I had to, or I’d be useless. I had to focus.

  We met Henri’s acquaintances in a bar in the eastern end of Sofia. There were five of them, one of them an older man about Henri’s age who carried himself with the same air of calm, cold capability that Henri possessed. The other four were younger. Mid-thirties. Hard-eyed, lean, and muscular, dark hair and days’ worth of beard growth, smoking an unbroken chain of cigarettes. All four of them could have been from anywhere in Europe or Russia, even the Middle East, possibly, and as we sat down with them, I overheard them speaking to each other in at least three different languages. I didn’t speak any language fluently except English, but I could recognize and pick out words and phrases of most of the common European languages. I sat silently, sipping cheap Scotch and letting Henri and Harris do the talking. I was long out of this world, and I knew the best thing I could do right now was let the others get things moving. Henri, especially, was a man to whom you listened when he spoke, whose directions you followed. He’d made it to old age in a profession that you didn’t so much retire from as survive, and he knew the kinds of people we’d need on our side if we were going to have a chance of getting Kyrie back.

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